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After Iran deal exit, average Iranians worried about the future

Uncertainty in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is fueling pessimism about the future among ordinary Iranians.
Iranian women sit on street bench in Tehran, Iran, August 2, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1A3741D5D0

The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been received negatively by much of the international community, with the exception of Israel and some Arab states.

In Iran, elites are divided about how to respond, with the administration of President Hassan Rouhani pursuing dialogue with Europe to gain “practical guarantees” that promises dividends of the deal will materialize. Meanwhile, other political figures are urging a prompt reciprocal withdrawal from the accord. As for ordinary Iranians, "gloom" appears to be the word of the day.

In his May 8 deal withdrawal announcement, President Donald Trump addressed “the long suffering people of Iran,” characterizing his policy toward the Islamic Republic as one that “benefits all of Iran.” He concluded his remarks by saying that “the future of Iran belongs to its people.” A similar sentiment was echoed in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s May 21 outlining of the new US strategy toward Iran.

Among ordinary Iranians, there now seems to be a shared sense of distress, frustration and anger. These sentiments are clear whether at friendly gatherings, family visits, chats during taxi rides or heated dialogues among colleagues.

Sepideh Pourakbar, a young mother who works from home in the city of Karaj, 20 miles west of the capital Tehran, bitterly laughed off Trump’s remarks, telling Al-Monitor, “Future? What future? Does he really care about us? I cannot believe that. My heart sank the very night I heard Mr. Trump’s speech. I knew nothing good would come of it.”

Young Iranians do not disagree with the notion of being in charge of their fates. “I do believe that the people of Iran are in charge of their future and are assets to their country,” said Amirhossein Andalibi, a software engineer who works at a startup in Tehran. “We need equipment, software and hardware to work on applications or sites, for the sake of the country’s development. But much of what we are looking for cannot be found here due to the sanctions in place.”

For some, the impact of the reimposition of US sanctions is even more imminent. Forough Mahmoudi Darvish speaks up about her worries of not being able to find the medicine she needs for her scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. The US embargo on Iran does not include medicine, medical devices, food and certain agricultural commodities. But Iranian markets, still reeling from the sanctions imposed prior to the implementation of the nuclear deal, appear frozen as businesses contemplate how to best proceed amid the uncertainty.

“I have to take mycophenolic acid pills sold under the brand name Suprimon. With the recent tensions and the surging exchange rate, pharmacies seem to be withholding the drugs because they don’t know at what rate they should be sold,” she told Al-Monitor.

Although Darvish sees mismanagement and corruption as the direct cause of her predicament, she told Al-Monitor that she also believes the situation is an indirect outcome of US sanctions and the fear of an upcoming war. “Only the salespeople might benefit from this situation.”

But putting certain well-connected elites aside, small business owners do not appear to be beneficiaries of the present situation. Pouya Khajenasir, a 22-year-old who works in a clothing shop in the city of Qazvin, just over two hour’s drive northwest of Tehran, said his sales have dropped dramatically. “I know things are about to get worse with this new fiasco,” he told Al-Monitor.

Meanwhile, many Iranians continue to opt for emigration as a way out. Mona Borhani, an English teacher, said, “It’s everyone nowadays. People seem to have gotten stuck in a state of frenzy to leave the country.”

In 2015, officials put the number of documented Iranians living abroad at 4 million, including 70,000 students. But the precise number of expatriate Iranians is almost impossible to track. Borhani told Al-Monitor that the emigration “frenzy" is no longer about work or study opportunities, saying, "People are ready to leave all they have behind to get out.”

Despite the preference for emigration among many Iranians, moving abroad or even visiting foreign destinations has become much more difficult due to the devaluation of the Iranian currency. Amid reports in conservative media about officials who either hold dual nationality or residency abroad, Pourakbar, whose son, Radin, is 3 years old, sees emigration as a far-fetched prospect for her. “I wish I had emigrated before — not so sure I can afford that right now. My son deserves to live a happy life and have a good future; it now seems like a dream.”

Mahyar Salehinia, a musician with the rock band Piclavier, said the shift in US policy toward Iran could end his career in a “domino effect.” He told Al-Monitor, “The hard-liners are likely to take it out on us and tighten their grip. I can’t remember the last time they went easy on anyone. They would hold their ground even harder.”

While some Iranians say Trump has shown his populist tendencies, Navid Yousefian, a tourism entrepreneur, said the US president’s motive is about far more than fulfilling campaign promises.

“In the last few months, we have been witnessing the most democratic and radical street politics after the [1979] Islamic Revolution,” he told Al-Monitor, referring to the recent string of labor strikes, worker protests and women voicing their dissent toward the mandatory dress code as “bottom-up” activities. In this equation, Yousefian said Trump is not the only one to blame for the apparent US obliviousness to the consequences of its actions, hinting at American awareness of the strengthening of Iranian hard-liners.

As such, ordinary Iranians do not appear to sense bright prospects ahead. The common sentiment is not strong support for the Islamic Republic. But it is nonetheless a foregone conclusion that people will grow more dependent on the state and state-owned businesses, as well as state-sponsored education, culture and values. The outcome of these dynamics, which are not new in Iran, is predictable: a tired polity and toughened policy.

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